Customer 911: When a Good Customer Goes Bad

Lyne Noella

Lyne Noella

by Lyne Noella of WavePlay

Are you in a tailspin over a treasured customer who has suddenly behaved badly, putting your business relationship at risk? If so, resist the temptation to do nothing.  Take these 6 action steps, the equivalent of customer 911, to get the relationship back on track:

#1: Ask the key decision-maker for a meeting. You want an in-person meeting. If possible, suggest that the meeting take place away from the office–perhaps over a glass of wine or dinner. At the meeting, ask for advice on how to handle the sticky situation. The decision-maker may provide background information that will help you determine how best to proceed.

#2: Secure non-confidential information from others in the community. It is likely that you are operating without the complete picture, especially if the customer’s behavior comes as a surprise. Check in with other trusted professionals you know who are also working with the customer to update on non-confidential developments. Gather information, if possible, from news sources, social media and other venues

#3: Create and distribute a status report. The fate of your account is likely in the hands of several members of the management team. Give them the facts they need to make an informed decision. Tip: this is your opportunity to showcase your value and get the management team excited about initiatives ahead.

#4: Wow the customer with a creative new opportunity. You have a strategic advantage: you know your customer–this is an advantage over the competition. Work with your management team to create a compelling new market opportunity for your customer–demonstrate your value. Your new idea, helping your customer succeed, may overshadow perceived faults or competitive bids. Make the most of your inside knowledge and talented management team to keep the relationship fresh and exciting. Invest in a marketing communications group to help you develop and express your ideas.

#5: Have a Plan B. Face facts: you may lose this key account. With this possibility in mind, pull together your management team for a “What if/new possibilities” brainstorming session. If you lose this customer, what are the positives? Can you approach the market in new ways? Can you do business with customers who were previously out of play? Ask your management team to suggest ideas for new ways of doing business if this troublesome customer is out of the picture. If necessary, ask a management consultant to help you produce an exciting Plan B.

#6: Explore new markets and profit centers. Have you been managing the business day-to-day rather than strategically? The possible loss of a key customer is an opportunity to examine new ways to provide value in the marketplace and develop new revenue streams. Do not delay–engage a trusted management consultant to help you and your team explore exciting new directions for the next three to five years. This possible loss is a wake-up call. Do not continue with business as usual. Work with the consultant to ensure that you follow through on an exciting new future. Those who work for you–and their families–deserve your best.

Follow these steps and sleep well knowing that you have made a genuine effort to keep the key customer. More importantly, engage your management team and personnel in exciting plans for the future. The possible loss of a key customer could be the best thing that has happened to your firm in the past few years–the outcome–and your future–is in your hands.

Lyne Noella is CEO at WavePlay, a boutique agency that helps executives solve problems via introductions to professional service providers. Contact her at

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